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As the number of cases of COVID increases, the European Christmas market will open cautiously

Frankfurt, Germany (AP)

The holiday tree rises above the main square of this central German city. Chestnut and sugar-coated almonds are roasted, and children are climbing on the merry-go-round as they were before the pandemic. However, the surge in coronavirus infections has made the Christmas market in Frankfurt uneasy.

To taste a mug of Glühwein, a simple pre-pandemic winter ritual, masked customers must pass through a one-way entrance to a fenced wine hut and stop at a hand sanitizer station. It will not be. Elsewhere, security guards check the vaccination certificate before directing the customer to steamed sausages or kebabs.

Despite the pandemic inconvenience, owners of stalls selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities have decided to open at the Christmas market for the first time in two years. I am completely relieved. In particular, the record high for COVID-19 infection has led to new regulations in Germany, Austria and other countries. Opened merchants want at least some of their pre-pandemic holiday sales to be successful or unsuccessful in their business.

Others are not so lucky. Many of the famous holiday events have been canceled in Germany and Austria. In the market, closures are the money tourists spend on restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

Jens Nauer, who creates a complex, bright Christmas-themed silhouette that people can hang on windows, said he simply wanted the Frankfurt market to “keep open for as long as possible.”

For many retailers and restaurant owners, Christmas is 40% of their annual revenue, but “100% for me,” Knauer said. “If you stay open for three weeks, you can achieve that throughout the year.”

Traders are at stake after the sudden closure of other Christmas markets in the Bavarian region of Germany, including Nuremberg, one of the largest and most famous markets. Dresden’s stunned exhibitors had to pack their goods when authorities in eastern Saxony suddenly imposed new restrictions amid a surge in infection. The Austrian market was closed on Monday after a 10-day blockade began, and many stall owners wanted to be able to reopen if not extended. On Thursday, the Czech government closed the Christmas market as part of measures to counter the record surge in the incident.

Markets usually attract elbow-to-elbow crowds to rows of foot traffic that spill over into the revenue of ornaments and food sellers, as well as surrounding hotels and restaurants. This year, the market in Frankfurt has been significantly less crowded and the food stalls have expanded to a larger area.

Heiner Royer, who runs a wine barrel-shaped Glühwein hut, said he expects to see half of the 2019 business. I had income in two years, and at some point my reserves were exhausted. “

But if people have a little discipline and observe health measures, “I think we manage it,” he said.

A guest at Bettina Roie next door will be greeted by a sign asking her to present her vaccination certificate at her stand, which serves Swiss raclette, a popular melted cheese dish.

“We have a good concept in the market because we need space and rooms to keep some distance from each other,” she said. “In contrast to a physical restaurant, there are buildings and walls, but you can adjust them to suit your situation.”

The expanded Royer family is a fifth-generation exhibitor who also operates a merry-go-round in Frankfurt’s Central Romerberg Square, where the market opened on Monday.

“It was imperative to resume so that we could bring a little joy to people during the pandemic. That’s our job. We regain joy,” Roie said. ..

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has destabilized Europe’s economic recovery outlook, and some economists have begun to hedge expectations for growth in the last few months of the year.

Holger Schmiding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London, has lowered its forecast for the last three months of the year in 19 countries that use the euro from 0.7% to 0.5%. But he said the wave of infections has less impact on the economy as a whole, as vaccination has learned to alleviate serious illnesses and adapt for many companies.

This is a cold comfort for the German DEHOGA Restaurant and Hotel Association, which warns of “hail of cancellation” and reports that members have canceled every two Christmas parties or other special events.

Other European countries where the pandemic is less serious are back in the old way. The traditional Christmas market on Plaza Mayor in Madrid, in the heart of the Spanish capital, is located in the center of the Spanish capital and will open on Friday on a pre-pandemic scale.

In a country where 89% of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, there are 104 nativity stalls, ornaments and traditional sweets stalls. Last year, the number of food stalls was halved, limiting the number of people who could enter the square. According to the organizers, masks and social distance will continue to be mandatory.

In Budapest, the capital of Hungary, the Christmas market is closed and visitors are required to show proof of vaccination.

Gyorgy Nagy, a producer and seller of handmade glossy tableware, said the restrictions initially aroused the worries of less shoppers. But so far the business is doing well.

“I don’t think the fence is bad,” he said. “I was scared at first, I was really scared, but I think it’s okay … I don’t think it would be a disadvantage.”

Market opening reflects the wide range of loose regulations in Hungary, but new COVID-19 cases have surpassed the peak seen during the catastrophic surge last spring. Since the pandemic began last week, more infections have been identified than in any other week.

Representatives of the Advent Basilica Christmas market said many of the measures, such as all vendors wearing masks and vaccination of vendors selling food and drink, exceed government requirements.

Bee Lacatos, who sells scented soaps and oils in the Budapest market, said, although sales were a little weaker than before the pandemic, “I didn’t expect that there would be so many foreign tourists due to restrictions. “.

“I don’t think the situation is so bad so far,” she said this week. “The weekend started particularly powerfully.”

In Vienna, the market was full last weekend as people sought Christmas cheers before the Austrian blockade. Merchants said last year’s closure and new restrictions had dire consequences.

“The main sales for the whole year are at the Christmas markets. This suspension is a huge financial loss,” said Laura Brechmann, who sold the illuminated stars at the Spitterberg market before the blockade began. .. “We want things to come back, but I personally don’t really expect it.”

In the Salzkammergut region of Austria, where ski resorts and the picturesque town of Hallstatt are located, the tourism industry wants the country’s blockade not to be extended beyond December 13, which is some coveted income. Can be recovered.

The extended lockdown last winter cost € 1 million ($ 1.12 million) for the Tourism Board alone, not to mention the huge financial losses suffered by hotels, restaurants and ski resorts during the night’s tourism tax. It cost me.

Christian Sylvauer, Head of Tourism in the Dachstein-Salzkammergut region, said: “But it depends on whether the number of cases decreases.”

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Emily Schultais reported from Vienna and Justin Spike from Budapest, Hungary. Aritz Parra contributed this report from Madrid.

As the number of cases of COVID increases, the European Christmas market will open cautiously

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